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Czech Police Bar Pilgrimage to Village of 1968 Protester

From Reuters

Police prevented human rights activists from making a pilgrimage Saturday to the village of Jan Palach, who burned himself to death 20 years ago in protest against the 1968 Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia.

Police also guarded Prague’s central Wenceslas Square, where crowds last week staged the biggest political protests in 20 years, but there were no demonstrations.

The protests began last Sunday to commemorate Palach’s fiery suicide and went on for six consecutive days. Police intervened, at times with force, to disperse the demonstrators.

In Palach’s home village of Vsetaty, 20 miles north of Prague, dozens of police blocked roads and turned away motorists and pedestrians, telling them the area was closed. A helicopter circled overhead.

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Residents and foreign journalists were allowed past the blockade, but the police action thwarted a pilgrimage planned by members of the Charter 77 human rights movement and other independent groups.

It was not immediately known whether those turned away were members of those groups, but dissident sources said the visit had not been formally canceled, despite police warnings that they would prevent it.

Passenger trains failed to make scheduled stops in Vsetaty. The cemetery where Palach is buried was closed.

A sign at the gate attributed the closure to “technical reasons.”

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